April 25, 2019 – By Faith in Jesus, We Will Live In the Heavenly City- Hebrews 11:1-16

heavenly-golden-city

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV)

It is telling that the author of Hebrews brings the definition of faith back to creation. At the very beginning of Scripture we are taught, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”- Genesis 1:1

God created the universe ex nihilo- from nothing- and this is the God in whom we believe.  If creation is of God, then we are inextricably connected to Him whether we acknowledge it or not.  While God is separate from His creation, creation cannot exist apart from Him.

Our mighty creator God gives us the gift of faith- faith so that we would trust in His provision and promise. The stories of the patriarchs are given to us not to show us how great Abel or Noah were, or what fantastic people Abraham and Sarah were, but to show us how great God is. Their faith is what commended them to God rather than their own merit or good deeds.  Our merits and good deeds are nothing more than dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the sight of God. By faith, we trust that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and when God looks at us all he sees is Jesus.  Jesus has justified us, because we believe He is who He says He is, and that what He said: “It is finished,“ as He died on the Cross in our place is enough.

We are strangers and sojourners in this world, but as people baptized into Christ we are made to be the children of God’s covenant with Abraham- born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

By faith we know that Jesus has made for us a lasting city. By faith we trust that the kingdom of “now but not yet” will end, and we will step into the fullness of God’s promise as citizens of the heavenly city.

 

 

February 19, 2019- How Majestic is God’s Name! – Psalm 8, John 1:1-5

Creation

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.   Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!    Psalm 8 (ESV)

It is comforting to know that God is omnipotent. Someone beyond us has created the universe and all that is in nature, yet He cared for fragile humanity so much that Jesus became one of us.  Jesus lived on the earth. He entered into the wonder of human life as well as all its pain and brokenness. He laughed, He wept, He comforted, He taught. He rebuked.  He got angry. He shared joy. Jesus was fully God, and also fully human.

As we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered. He died and was buried, and descended into the place of the dead. He rose on the third day. As the prophet Isaiah teaches us, He was pierced for our transgressions, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

God Himself- Jesus- who has always been, beyond the constraints of time, has given us stewardship of the world. Out of His great love for us, He provides for us. The sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the fields and mountains, and all the animals that live in them are all His handiwork.

Thank God that we are always on His mind and that He always cares for us even though we are little more than dust.

The Psalms remind us to pray, to praise, and to bring everything to the omnipotent and endless God who created us and sustains us. It’s always a good time to look up and remember that God provides everything we need, including life with Him forever!

April 16, 2018- An Unnatural Love- 1 John 3:10-16

cain and abel2

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:10-16 (ESV)

If we think that it is possible for us to love everyone all the time, realistically we have to admit we don’t. It’s really easy to become cynical and unloving toward our fellow humans when we turn on the news, when we look out the door, drive on the freeway, or end up cleaning up after a family member yet again. Sinful humanity is really good at letting each other down.

Love does not come naturally to us. Anyone who has observed toddlers (or automotive technicians) for any length of time will find that human nature compels our hearts to stay focused on me, me, me.  It is hard to observe small children for any length of time without fights breaking out over who possesses what thing, or over who gets the most attention or privileges.  If one child wants a particular toy, the others will want that toy as well, no matter how many toys each child already has.  If Grandma is busy with child A, child B will barge in and scream for Grandma’s attention as well.

When humans are left to our own devices, we look out for our own well being, but not so much for the well being of others. We put our own interests and feelings first. Any of us put in the right situation can act just as Cain did. That inclination toward evil is built into our flesh and has been with humanity since the Fall.

God gave us His Law and His commandments because He knows that we need boundaries for our behavior. The Law is a good thing even if we can’t observe it completely and faithfully. Even with protective boundaries, God knew we could not keep His Law and redeem ourselves by good behavior no matter how hard we try.

Because God knew we could not save ourselves, He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again to save us from our sins. He took the punishment that brings us peace and bore the wounds that bring us our healing, as well as our salvation, restoration and sanctification. (Isaiah 53:5)  Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing.  Not because He had to, but because God loves us.

In our Baptism we are adopted into God’s family. With the water and the Word we are baptized into the crucifixion and death of Jesus as well as we share in His resurrection. We share in His suffering, but we also share in eternal life. Our sins are washed away, and we are set free to act as who we have become in Christ.

The difficult part of this paradox of being a sinful human, but a saint of God at the same time (simul justus et peccator) is that we cannot completely drown the “old Adam.”  Even if we take the good advice of Martin Luther and put on Baptism as daily wear, we find that we don’t always have the mind of Christ.   We still sin no matter how hard we try not to.  We still lose our patience, we still scream “me, me, me” like a toddler, and we still hold grudges and offenses against those around us.  All we can do is lean on and rely on Jesus.

Love is the greatest commandment of the Law- to love God and to love our neighbor- including those neighbors we aren’t too thrilled to claim. Apart from Jesus we cannot breathe. We cannot have life. We cannot save ourselves.  Apart from Jesus we can’t even think of loving God or anyone else.  The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took our place. He does for us what we cannot do ourselves. He gives us all we need and walks with us through every day.  Because of His love for us we are called to respond in love for those around us, that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

February 22, 2017- Treasure and the Heart – Matthew 6:19-21

treasures

(Jesus said:)“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

The love of money is said to be the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10.)  Yet money and material possessions are in and of themselves good gifts of God, and in and of themselves they are morally neutral.  How we regard and use them is what renders their use as being good or evil.

What exactly would we define as a treasure?  Our bank accounts, our homes, our cars, our jewelry, phones, or heirlooms?  Those things are good and useful and are wonderful gifts of God, but are they the things that really matter and really last?  After all we are born with no material possessions, and there are no material possessions that can go with us along for the ride when we die.

Jesus is asking us to look at the true treasures of life- the love of God, our families and friends, and the joy of doing the good things that God created us to do.  Those are treasures that money can’t buy and that last forever, beyond the circles of this world, into eternity in Heaven.

 

 

 

December 27, 2016 – Putting the Rubber to the Road- Mark 1:9-13

The Temptation in the Wilderness 1824 by John St John Long 1798-1834

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. – Mark 1:9-13 (NRSV)

Of the four Gospels, only Mark completely omits any kind of nativity story.  Only Luke and Matthew go into details on the nativity, while John, in his rather otherworldly and ethereal way, makes the parallel between Jesus the Light of the World, and the Genesis creation narrative.

Mark goes right to the rubber hitting the road. Jesus was baptized, approved by God, and no sooner than He could turn around, He was stranded in the wilderness. Thanks, Mark. No fanfare or singing or shepherds or Mary pondering in her heart.  Mark gets down to the nitty gritty right away.

This sort of sounds like the story of most of our lives.  We just sort of end up plopped down in the wilderness at times.  We should expect Jesus in His humanity to be put in that wilderness situation.  God put Him in this world not to stash Him in an ivory tower and shield Him from all the dirty, painful and nasty aspects of humanity, but to immerse Him completely in the human experience.  How else was He supposed to be Emmanuel, God with us?

It’s telling that God equipped Jesus to sustain Him.  He gave Him what He needed to overcome the challenges He faced.  He did not take Jesus’ challenges away from Him.  He did not just snap His fingers and give Jesus an easy, uncomplicated life.  God did not play the old literary device of deus ex machina- literally “the god in the machine” in Jesus’ life. He didn’t just lift Jesus up out of troubles as if He were a hero in an action movie.  Jesus had to endure, and fight and suffer.

God gives us the resources we need to overcome temptation.  He gives us the strength to endure and overcome challenges, but normally He doesn’t just “magically” lift us out of them.

In the words of the great theologian, Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want/ you can try sometimes / you just might find/ you get what you need.”  God might not give us what we want, but He does provide what we need. He doesn’t always give us what we need in the ways we expect, either.

I’m not sure why God allows us to go through suffering or trials. That to me is a mystery of faith that I will not understand this side of Heaven, and perhaps not even on the other side.  I do know that in suffering and trials He does sustain us and He does give us what we need to overcome and grow through them. That answer just has to be good enough for now.

If the goal in our earthly sojourn is for to become more like Jesus then we too, have to trust God and hang on when the rubber hits the road.  We aren’t called to a pristine, clean and untested faith, but one where we get dirty, make mistakes, suffer, cry out in pain, and struggle with questions and doubt.  Those are also parts of the journey- the one that Jesus came to earth to travel as well.